8 Nintendo Products That Aren’t Video Games

Although Nintendo is one of the most iconic brands in video game history, the company was in business for nearly a century before the NES, Game Boy, or even Mario were ever dreamed up. Founded in 1889, the Kyoto, Japan-based company was known as Nintendo Koppai in its formative years and primarily made different types of playing cards before branching off into toys and board games. Here are 8 non-video game products from Nintendo’s near-127-year history.


One of Nintendo’s most popular playing card series was the Ehon Trump, a kind of picture book that featured TV-shaped boxes with famous Japanese cartoons and comic book characters inside (think Astro Boy and Ultraman). In 1959, the company acquired a license from Disney to produce toys and games for the Japanese market, and added such beloved characters as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to the lineup.


After decades of producing playing cards, Nintendo expanded to the toy and game market in 1964 with Rabbit Coaster, a game in which players raced colored beans down a series of descending tracks and levels to the finish line. The game’s popularity led Nintendo to release a whole series of “coaster” games, including My Car Race, Punch Race, and a sequel to Rabbit Coaster.


Struggling against heavyweights like Bandai in the Japanese toy market, Nintendo turned to up-and-coming designer Gunpei Yokoi to brainstorm some fresh ideas for the company. In 1966, Yokoi unveiled Ultra Hand, a plastic grabber toy that could expand and contract with its handles. The toy became a smash hit in Japan and was Nintendo’s first product to sell more than one million units.

Fun Fact: In 1989—more than two decades later—Gunpei Yokoi also created the Game Boy for Nintendo.


In 1972 Nintendo released Mach Rider, a battery-powered race car that rested on a ramp connected to gauges and a gear shift, into the Japanese toy market. When its user would shift from one gear to the next, the car would charge and increase speed while docked. Once the user shifted into fourth gear, the Mach Rider would shoot off the ramp.


In 1967, following the success of Ultra Hand, Gunpei Yokoi created Ultra Machine, a battery-powered pitching machine that came with ping pong balls and a colorful plastic bat. The toy became another hit for Nintendo, and gave the company the opportunity to branch out into foreign markets. When the Ultra Machine was released in the United States and Australia, Nintendo changed its name to Slugger Mate, as the “Ultra” brand was only recognizable in Japan.


Released in the mid-1960s, Magic Roulette was aimed squarely at the adult market. The sophisticated roulette game came with plastic betting chips, a playing field, metal ball bearings, and a roulette wheel, plus playing cards. Magic Roulette could be played as traditional roulette or a variation of five-card poker using five ball bearings during a spin instead of just one.   


In 1971 Nintendo released the Light Telephone, a two-way walkie-talkie that used transmitted light for communication instead of radio waves. Rather than market the Light Telephone to children, Nintendo targeted it as a novelty item for tech-savvy adults. It was only available in Japan, but it got some attention in Popular Science as a “walkie-talkie flashlight.” 


In the late 1970s, Nintendo released a small, radio-controlled vacuum cleaner as a game. It was called Chiritori, which means “dustpan” in Japanese. Although Chiritori could actually pick up dust and other gunk off a floor, it was intended to be a toy, not an actual household cleaning device. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chiritori wasn’t a bestseller for Nintendo; the company only made a limited amount of units, and the toy was discontinued shortly after its release.

This Augmented-Reality App Makes the Hospital Experience Less Scary for Kids

Staying in a hospital can be a scary experience for kids, but a little distraction can make it less stressful. According to studies conducted by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, distracted patients have an easier time with their appointments and require less pain medication. Now, Co.Design reports that the hospital is releasing its own app designed to keep children entertained—and calm—from the moment they check in.

The Android and iOS app, called Alder Play, was designed by ustwo, the makers of the wildly popular smartphone game Monument Valley and the stress relief tool Pause. Patients can download the app before they arrive at the hospital, choosing a virtual animal buddy to guide them through their stay. Then, once they check into the hospital, their furry companion shows them around the facility using augmented-reality technology.

The app features plenty of fun scavenger hunts and other games for kids to play during their downtime, but its most important features are designed to coach young patients through treatments. Short videos walk them through procedures like blood tests so that when the time comes, the situation will feel less intimidating. And for each step in the hospitalization process, from body scans to gown changes, doctors can give kids virtual stickers to reward them for following directions or just being brave. There’s also an AI chatbot (powered by IBM’s Watson) available to answer any questions kids or their parents might have about the hospital.

The app is very new, and Alder Hey is still assessing whether or not it's changing their young hospital guests’ experiences for the better. If the game is successful, children's hospitals around the world may consider developing exclusive apps of their own.

[h/t Co.Design]

Cell Free Technology
This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology


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